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Four Ways Employers Unintentionally Racially Discriminate


It’s no secret that communities of color typically experience higher unemployment than the white community does. When the economy faces distress, racial disparities in the unemployment rate become even more pronounced. After the United States experienced a recession in late 2007, for example, the black unemployment rate soared in the following years. Often the African-American unemployment rate was double the white unemployment rate, with Hispanic joblessness almost as high as black joblessness. What’s responsible for this imbalance? Many put the blame on racial discrimination. While it’s not always easy to prove that employers intentionally discriminate against minority job applicants, some companies do engage in practices that effectively weed out people of color as potential hires. Are you at risk? This roundup reveals some of the top hiring practices that lead to discrimination.

Only Hiring Applicants With Jobs

It’s a popular expression: “You’ve got to have a job to get a job.” For many people, that’s more than just an aphorism, it’s life. Some employers regard job applicants with gaps in their resume with suspicion. They may feel that a job applicant who’s been out of work for some time lacks up-to-date skills or that the applicant has work habits or personality traits that resulted in loss of employment, even if the applicant was laid off. Companies find job candidates who’ve been lengthily unemployed so undesirable that some have posted job advertisements telling unemployed workers to stay away. Given that unemployment rates in communities of color are much higher than those in white communities, such hiring policies disproportionately target minority applicants. As a result African-American lawmakers such as Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson introduced the Fair Employment Act of 2011 to protect unemployed workers from discrimination.

Using Credit History in Hiring

It’s common knowledge that one needs good credit to rent an apartment or qualify for a loan. In the 21st century it’s now also common for employers to require job applicants to have good credit. This move has racial implications. Given that there’s long been a pervasive wealth gap between the races, whites are more likely to have better credit than their minority counterparts. The fact that minorities have higher unemployment rates than whites doesn’t help matters. After all, when people are out of work they tend to fall behind on their bills, resulting in lower credit scores. The only chance they have to repair their damaged credit is to become gainfully employed and settle their debts. Employers who use credit history in hiring decisions make it difficult for people with bad credit to improve their credit rating.

Some employers think that credit history reflects a candidate’s character. But for people who’ve fallen on hard times or find it difficult to land steady work after graduating from college, that’s not the case. Moreover, such employers don’t consider the possibility that errors are quite common on credit reports. Because basing hiring decisions on an applicant’s credit history disproportionately rules out minority applicants, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed suit against companies who use credit history to eliminate applicants instead of whether the applicant is qualified for the job.

Using Criminal History in Hiring

Just as the EEOC encourages employers not to use credit history as the sole criterion in hiring, it advises employers not to base hiring decisions on an applicant’s criminal history because doing so disproportionately affects minorities. For a number of reasons—poverty, limited opportunities, higher police presence in minority communities—black and Latino men are more likely to have arrest records than others. But the EEOC says that an arrest record shouldn’t cause employers to refuse to hire such men. For one, an arrest record doesn’t mean that a job applicant was actually convicted of a crime, the EEOC points out. Moreover, the reason an applicant was arrested may have little to do with the job for which he’s applying. While a financial institution would be wise not to hire someone arrested for theft to handle money, it would make little sense for a restaurant not to hire an applicant arrested for possessing a small quantity of pot as a dishwasher.

Hiring People Referred By Personal Reference

Job hunters hear the aphorism—“It’s not what you know, it’s who you know”—all the time. That’s because countless managers decide which candidates to interview based on ties they already have with them. For example, they prioritize interviewing candidates who already work at the company in some capacity. They might even alert these employees about a job opening before announcing it to the general public. Some managers also love to get leads on job candidates from their colleagues and friends rather than rifle through stacks of resumes from strangers. The drawback to such hiring strategies is that if a company is mostly white, managers who hire in-house are unlikely to have a large pool of minority applicants from which to draw. Moreover, if the managers in question are white, there’s a good chance that most of their loved ones and acquaintances will be white as well. So using friends and family to find job candidates may not yield many applicants of color.

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